World attention is on Nigeria and as usual because of bad news – the unfortunately kidnap of more than 300 schoolgirls since April 15. Though a few are reported to have escaped the rest have not been found. There is global indignation and distress and social media has never been put to better use, with the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls now used more than 2 million times.
Foreign governments have joined the search and there are signs the missing girls might soon be located. Like the world came together to search for the missing Malaysian airliner, everyone is search for the missing Nigerian girls and yet there are more questions than answers. Any new news about the victims is in all likelihood to be refuted within 24 hours, which is what happens when everybody is a new source. Alas, most are getting their news from unverified social media mentions. Such is the agony of the entire world that should you dare question any signs of hope you risk being demonized. I had a taste of it when I asked if it really happened. I was amused by the reaction of many readers whose indignation made me want to ask them if they thought they loved my country and its people more than me. I’m not one to return to my articles to justify my position knowing full well that the only way not to have people disagree with you is to keep quiet. One comment to the story was the best summary of my position and intent. It was written by one “Nokia”, and here’s what it said:
“While the whole world is regurgitating news items and viewpoints about this sordid affair, he has taken an original position to ask salient questions.
“I also see that many readers are missing the point of his writeup. They get so tied up to the title “did it really happen”, and fail to realize that what he is doing is setting the stage for a breaking of mold. Only by asking such a provocative question can he hope to shake us from our mental laziness, and my my, has he succeeded!”
Africa is my home and I will ask questions no one else will ask, as uncomfortable as it may be. That is why I was happy to read a recent article by David Brooks in the New York Times. He is aware of #BringBackOurGirls and the menace of Boko Haram and yet he insists that this is not the complete story about Africa.
He began his piece by quoting a 2005 work by Binyavanga Wainaina titled “How to Write About Africa”.
“Always use the word ‘Africa’ or ‘Darkness’ or ‘Safari’ in your title,” Wainaina advised. “Never have a picture of a well-adjusted African on the cover of your book, or in it, unless that African has won the Nobel Prize. An AK-47, prominent ribs, naked breasts: use these. If you must include an African, make sure you get one in Masai or Zulu or Dogon dress.”
“The people in said book should be depicted as hungry, suffering, simple or dead. The children should have distended bellies and flies on their faces. The animals, on the other hand, should be depicted as wise and filled with family values. Elephants are caring and good feminists. So are gorillas. Be sure to show how profoundly you are moved by the continent and its woes, and how much it has penetrated your soul. End with a quote from Nelson Mandela involving rainbows. Because you care.
“There’s been something similarly distorted to some of the social media reactions to the Boko Haram atrocities over the past week. It’s great that the kidnappings and the massacres are finally arousing the world’s indignation. But sometimes the implication of the conversation has been this: Africa is this dark and lawless place where monstrous things are bound to happen. Those poor people need our help.
“But this is more or less the opposite of the truth. Boko Haram is not the main story in Africa or even in Nigeria. It is a small rear-guard reaction to the main story. The main story in Africa is an impressive surge of growth, urbanization and modernization, which has sparked panic in a few people who don’t like these things.
“Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are growing at a phenomenal clip. Nigeria’s economy grew by 6.7 percent in 2012. Mozambique’s grew by 7.4 percent, Ghana’s by 7.9 percent. Economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa as a whole is predicted to reach 5.2 percent this year. Investment funds are starting up by the dozen, finding local entrepreneurs.
I’ll leave you to read the rest of the story but here’s how he concludes. This too I like:
“Too many of our images of Africa are derived from nature documentaries, fund-raising appeals and mission trips. In reality, Africa faces in acute forms the same problems that afflict pretty much every region these days. Most important: Individual and social creativity is zooming ahead. Governing institutions are failing to perform the basic, elementary tasks.”
While we pray for the safe return of the girls, I hope that when this is over, it will at least awaken a genuine and lasting interest for the real Africa.